I spent Wednesday afternoon getting to know Microsoft's new Office Live Workspace, a free service that lets you store Office files online for easy access and sharing.
Once I got used to what the service isn't--it isn't a way to actually work on the files in a browser--I came to appreciate how easy the service makes it to save Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files on the Web, and open them in their original app on any PC with an Internet link.
The biggest downside is how difficult it is to get the service working on a Vista machine running Office 2007. I was uploading and downloading Office 2003 documents on my XP machine in just a few minutes, but I had to jump through a series of hoops to do the same in their Office 2007 equivalents on my newer Vista PC.
I decided to start from scratch by creating a new Windows Live account rather than using my existing Hotmail account. Signing up for the account was a breeze, though I opted out of most of the options the installer presented. For example, I had no interest in downloading Messenger, the Windows Live Toolbar (my browser's cluttered enough already), or anything having to do with OneCare, which single-handedly destroyed my home network when I tried out the beta last summer. Be sure to uncheck the option to make MSN your home page, and you may want to avoid sending Microsoft any more data than the company already helps itself to.
Once the Windows Live installation completed, it took just a few more clicks to get started with Office Live Workspace. You're prompted to give the generic workspace a name and description, which you can change later simply by mousing over the name in the left pane and choosing one of the options that appears.
Of course, there's not much you can do with the service until you get some files uploaded. You can add files from inside the workspace one at a time or in batches, though the batch approach uses an ActiveX control, and thus requires Internet Explorer 6 or higher. Since I normally use Firefox (and had used that browser to create the workspace), switching to IE just to upload a bunch of files at once would have been a major inconvenience. Still, I never intended to use this method to add files to the workspace. Instead, I downloaded the Office Live Add-in, which lets you upload files to and download them from the workspace directly inside Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
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